Source: David Adam, guardian.co.uk, Sunday 31 May 2009 22.15 BST
British supermarkets are driving rapid destruction of the Amazon rainforest by using meat from farms responsible for illegal deforestation, according to a three-year investigation of the global trade in Brazilian cattle products.
The report names Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda, Morrisons and Marks and Spencer among dozens of high-profile companies it says profit from products supplied by Brazilian farms on illegally deforested land. Much of the trade is in processed beef, used for pies, canned meat and frozen ready meals. The supermarkets insist it is not from the Amazon.
The Greenpeace investigation also tracked the global trade in other Brazilian goods made from cattle. It names Nike, Adidas, Timberland and Clarks Shoes among companies it says use leather linked to Amazon destruction.
Greenpeace wants companies to refuse to buy products sourced from farms that have carried out illegal deforestation. It wants consumers to pressure supermarkets and high-street brands identified in the report to clean-up supply chains.
Sarah Shoraka, Greenpeace forests campaigner, said: “Shoes, handbags and ready meals aren’t normally associated with rainforest destruction and climate change, but we’ve found a smoking gun. UK companies are driving the destruction of the Amazon by buying beef and leather products from unscrupulous suppliers in Brazil. These products are ending up on our shelves.” She added :
The cattle industry is the single biggest cause of deforestation in the world and is a disaster for the fight against climate change. Global brands must take a stand.
Officials from around the world gather in Bonn for talks on a new treaty on global warming, which is expected to include urgent efforts to protect forests. Clearing tropical forests for agriculture is estimated to produce 17% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions – more than the entire global transport system. Many of the companies named in the Greenpeace report promote their efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions.
The Greenpeace report compiles government records, company documents and trade data from Brazil, China, Europe, Vietnam and the USA, to piece together the global movement of meat, leather and cosmetics ingredients made from Brazilian cattle.
Campaigners used satellite images, surveillance flights and undercover visits to assess deforestation on dozens of ranches across the Amazonian states of Para and Mato Grosso.
Cattle farming is now the biggest threat to the remaining Amazon rainforest, a fifth of which has been lost since 1970. Big ranches are blamed for 80% of all deforestation in the region; the number of cattle in the Amazon grew from 21m in 1995 to 56m in 2006.
The report, Slaughtering the Amazon, describes how ranches responsible for illegal deforestation sell cattle to slaughterhouses controlled by a handful of Brazilian companies. These ship beef or hides to facilities in the south of Brazil and process them for export. They are often processed again in the importing country.
Greenpeace says records show that cattle from hundreds of farms across the Amazon are mixed and processed in this way, making it currently impossible to trace the origins of products.
In effect, criminal or ‘dirty’ supplies of cattle are ‘laundered’ through the supply chain.
The investigation focused on three Brazilian companies, Bertin, JBS and Marfrig, which operate slaughterhouses and together control a third of Brazilian beef exports. Greenpeace says satellite images and trade records show that all three companies – part-owned by the Brazilian government– source cattle from farms that have carried out illegal deforestation in the Amazon. It says exports from the south of the country near São Paolo are “polluted” with products from animals raised on deforested land.
Britain is the second largest importer of processed Brazilian beef after the US, taking 50,000 tonnes last year.
Greenpeace says Marfrig facilities export processed beef to Green Isle Foods, an Irish subsidiary of Northern Foods. Product labels show Northern Foods supplies convenience foods that contain the Marfrig meat to Sainsbury’s, Asda and Morrisons, the report says. It says Tesco and Marks and Spencer sell tinned Brazilian beef supplied separately by JBS.
Tesco and Marks and Spencer denied the meat came from the Amazon. Marks and Spencer said: “We do not accept and have never used any beef from the Amazon region. We have been working with our Brazilian beef supplier for over 20 years and through the traceability measures we have in place we can ensure that all the product supplied to us by them is from the exact location we specify.”
Sainsbury’s said it used “a small amount of Brazilian beef in our frozen and canned range”. Morrisons said its suppliers provided documents to prove beef was not linked to Amazon deforestation. Asda said it was confident its beef did not come from the Amazon. It said: “If that isn’t the case we’d take that very seriously indeed.”
A Tesco spokesman said:
Our canned beef is sourced from São Paolo, which is about 3,000 km away from the Amazon. I have also been informed that the cows cannot travel more than 300km.
The report says: “While the blue chip companies behind reputable global brands appear to believe that Amazon sources are excluded from their products, Greenpeace investigations expose for the first time how their blind consumption of raw materials fuels deforestation and climate change.”
Northern Foods said: “The only Brazilian beef we buy for our Green Isle business is cooked beef from a single site in São Paulo state, not in or near the Amazon basin, and not sourcing materials from sites in or near the Amazon basin. The supplier we use, Marfrig, provides certificates to verify the farm source for this plant.”
Marfrig said it only bought cattle from farms not included on a Brazilian government prohibited list. “We have not been informed of any such violations by Greenpeace so cannot comment.”
Nike and Adidas said they would be discussing the issue with Greenpeace. Timberland said it used Bertin leather, but did not track the origin of all raw materials. Clarks Shoes said its UK operation was phasing out Bertin leather and seeking ways to guarantee source. Bertin said it would investigate and act on any evidence of “supplier irregularity”.